A month after the storm, my husband and I drove back to our home. The house was still standing, but our trees were devastated. The trees we had planted with our own hands were now toppled over our fences. The tops of our neighbors’ tall sycamores had broken off like snapped toothpicks. Hundreds of oaks fell in the winds. Thousands of magnolias drowned in the floods.
Our trees couldn’t evacuate. They couldn’t relocate. If they made it through the storm, and they had fight left in them, then they came back. They sprouted new leaves and new branches. They found new directions to grow.
On the other hand, I had options. I could have moved, started over somewhere else, but my husband and I came back. We had jobs to return to and a home that required only a roof replacement, electrical work and a new fridge. We didn’t have a house full of soggy furniture with walls and belongings covered in mold.
I tried to live bravely as one of the lucky ones. I did the work of four teachers, going from teaching just eighth grade to teaching fifth through eighth. I went to the store even when I couldn’t stop crying because it was closing at six and I needed supplies for the next day at school. I volunteered, gutting houses, replanting wetlands, dragging my friends’ soaked possessions to the curb. I planted new trees.
I met a woman named Monique Pilie. She had lived my childhood dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and now she was leading an organization called Hike for Katreena to replant the trees lost in the storm.
One day, I walked through the New Orleans meditation labyrinth, and found this quote:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver
Then I began to weep.
What was I doing? I had seen lives swept away in a moment – what did I need to stop waiting to do? Why hadn’t I hiked the Appalachian Trail? Why was I still dreaming but not doing?
I quit my job. I went on a six-month journey hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, finally living a treasured dream. I returned full of courage to start my own business. I studied to become a life coach. I built a practice I am continuing to grow today. I took chances I’d never considered taking before.
This week I took a photo of my neighbors’ sycamores and laid it on top of my scrapbook. The broken trunks can no longer be seen. I’ve watched the trees grow for the last ten years, and I am truly amazed at how far we have come. I can’t wait to find out where we are in twenty.